Actor Farley Granger dies at 85

Farley Granger, an American actor best-known for the Alfred Hitchcock classics Rope and Strangers on a Train, has died.
Farley Granger, left, and companion Robert Calhoun in Rome in 1972. Granger died Sunday. (Farley Granger/Associated Press)

Farley Granger, an American actor best-known for the Alfred Hitchcock classics Rope and Strangers on a Train, has died. He was 85.

Granger died Sunday of natural causes at his Manhattan home, according to a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner's office.

Granger was a screen idol of the 1940s and 1950s. A handsome teenager from San Jose, Calif., he was recruited by talent scouts for movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn.

His first movie, made when he was just 18, was 1943's The North Star, a First World War story that starred Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews.

"It was one of those miracle careers," Granger  said.

"I had no talent and no training whatsoever and suddenly I was thrown ... [in] with Walter Huston, Erich von Stroheim, Anne Baxter, Ann Harding and Walter Brennan."

In 1944, he made The Purple Heart before being enlisted into the U.S. Navy for military service.

His career resumed after the war with Nicholas Ray's 1949 film They Live By Night, in which he played an emotionally unstable crook.

He was publicized as a screen idol, with the studio releasing pictures of him in swim trunks alongside actresses such as Debbie Reynolds, Ann Blyth and Jane Powell.

Farley Granger portrays a Russian youth in his first movie, 1943's North Star. (Associated Press)
"Goldwyn firmly believed in big hype and hoopla for his stars, so he'd publicize me in projects that were never even written, just to get space in the fan magazines," Granger once recalled.

Granger was bisexual and, despite the suspicious 1950s era, resisted the game of marrying just to avoid speculation about his sexuality.

After roles in films such as Roseanna McCoy and Enchantment  that were forgettable, he started to become disenchanted with the studio.

Gay characters

But then he was loaned to Hitchcock for Rope, an unusual film shot in 10-minute takes, with Granger and John Dall playing gay students who murder a friend to display a Nietzschean concept of supremacy.

The film was not a great success with the public, but Hitchcock cast him in another movie with a gay subtext, Strangers On a Train. He played handsome tennis champion Guy Haines, mentally seduced by the unhinged Bruno (Robert Walker) into making a pact that involves murder. 

He also worked with Luchino Visconti on Senso (1953), Vincente Minnelli in The Story of Three Loves (1953) and Anthony Mann's fast-paced thriller Side Street(1950).

Most of Granger's studio roles were less varied, with the actor often cast as the bland romantic lead. "I was on suspension most of the time for turning down scripts," he recalled.

In 1953, he bought out his contract from Goldwyn and headed to New York, where he studied with Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and other famous acting coaches.

Farley Granger, right, comes to the aid of Shelley Winters after her dress became unzipped at a Los Angeles dinner in 1961. (Associated Press)
"I left Hollywood because I didn't know my craft," he said.

"I was a star, but I knew nothing of the techniques of acting. I figured I'd better learn or I'd be in trouble when the star aspects of my career wore off."

The rest of Granger's career was spent in small movie roles, television and on the stage.

"What saved my life then was live television, the so-called Golden Age of television drama," Granger said in his 2007 memoir, Include Me Out.

"I did a lot of it and loved it. Most movie actors were afraid to go into live TV because they weren't used to it. I had to, just to make a living."

Broadway, TV roles

His TV roles included spots on Matt Helm, Ellery Queen, The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote as well as soaps such as As The World Turns.

He acted in The Carefree Tree on Broadway in 1955 and toured with productions of The Seagull, Hedda Gabler and She Stoops to Conquer.

In 1970, he made the western My Name Is Trinity and then the spy thriller The Serpent, in which he co-starred with Henry Fonda, Yul Brynner and Dirk Bogarde.

He later contributed to the documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995), an examination of homosexuality in Hollywood movies.

In 2001, he appeared in his last film, The Next Big Thing, and made his West End stage debut in a London revival of Noel Coward's play Semi-Monde.

Over the years, Granger was romantically linked with many of Hollywood's leading ladies, including Ava Gardner and Shelley Winters, who remained a longtime friend.

In his 2007 memoir , co-written with his partner Robert Calhoun, Granger also revealed same-sex affairs with playwright Arthur Laurents and composer Leonard Bernstein.  

With files from The Associated Press